Noel Marie Laplume

03/11/11

On his first day in office, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed an executive order requiring all state agencies and companies that contract with state agencies to screen employees using the E-Verify system- a move that has been mimicked to such a degree that it is fair to say it has gone viral. The E-Verify program is an internet-based system operated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the country legally. Yet although it was marketed as a “fast, free, and easy to use” program that was supposedly “the best way employers could ensure a legal workforce,” a report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) weakens some of the very attributes that escalated its use. The report points out that “after five years of dramatic growth it is unclear that the use of E-Verify affects hiring practices, especially in states with industries that rely more heavily on foreign workers.” In spite of this illuminating new evidence, the state of Florida- for which the positive benefits and efficacy of E-Verify are questionable, at best- has held a review in the House Immigration Subcommittee and is pursuing the employment screening program it has titled “Preserving Jobs for American Workers.”

State Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla), who at one point called E-Verify a “bogus deal,” filed Senate Bill 518 to require every employer to use the “Employment Authorization Program.” By requiring every public employer to register with and participate in the E-Verify system, the intention is to prohibit employers from hiring unauthorized aliens. In support of this measure, the advocacy group Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, argue that it would, in effect, cause aliens to “self-deport to their home country or flee to another state” when they find themselves out of work. They also claim that the enactment was an effective, moderate and common sense solution to address the root cause of illegal immigration (one they dubbed “the job magnet”) by serving as a “preventative measure and deterrent to future unlawful entrants.” It is on account of this mentality, that is, the belief that if E-Verify were indiscriminately implemented in every state of the country, the illegal immigrant population would- to borrow their catch-phrase- “self-deport,” that the adoption of this policy has been instigated to the degree we have witnessed. However, this notion may be an all-too simplified justification for a compliance system that may lead to deleterious consequences if nationalized- a point that was underscored by MPI in its report because of the detrimental effects it would have on the numerous states that have a high concentration of immigrants. And because our state houses immigration hubs such as Miami and Orlando, the losses would be too great.

Surely enough, we must acknowledge that the E-Verify system has its merits especially if made to work in conjunction with comprehensive immigration reform policies; yet, it cannot be confused as being an effective measure solely for the purpose of enforcing our nation’s immigration laws. The MPI report confirmed that “E-Verify strengthens immigration enforcement because it detects the most common types of fake IDs that cannot be matched to valid records in Social Security or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases.” As of January 2011, over 11,000 Florida employers are enrolled in the program, and the program has over 240,000 subscribers nation-wide. Due to the fact that Florida ranks 6th in the nation for identity theft, some called the use of the system as a method to help put an end to it. However, the Migration Policy report clearly states that E-Verify “remains vulnerable to identity fraud because the system cannot confirm whether a name and identifying number actually belong to the worker being hired.” And although the institute credits USCIS for their efforts to resolve this problem, it also highlights that expanded use of E-Verify would do nothing to curb such a problem, and would in fact expose Americans to greater risk of identity theft as private information becomes more easily available to the public. On another front, because every preventive measure is only as good as the extent and regularity of its use, the system cannot control those employers who, despite being enrolled, do not screen everybody they hire. This problem of non-usage was evaluated by DHS in 2008, showing that in Arizona two-thirds of new hires were likely not to have been screened by employers despite the fact that E-Verify is mandatory in that state. In addition to this, even though there have been some improvements there is still ample evidence of the system malfunctioning as it mistakenly clears high numbers of unauthorized workers which it should have detected and flagged as fraudulent. Needless to say, these errors have a tendency to produce discriminatory outcomes that wrongly affect people with foreign names as well as naturalized citizens and legal residents.

The Immigration Policy Center issued a statement warning that the system was meant as a compliance mechanism that, somewhere along the way, “became confused with a deportation strategy.” It went along to state that the portrayal of the program as a solution to our illegal immigration problem and as a way to generate jobs for unemployed Americans was a misguided misconception that would not work as prescribed if implemented nationally. Furthermore, in terms of a country-wide instrument, the report went on to highlight that “[d]ata and analysis demonstrate that expanding E-Verify now would actually have harmful consequences for U.S. workers, employers and the economy.” The use of E-Verify at a national level would certainly increase the direct economic cost of the program, and it would also “reduce state and federal payroll taxes because many employers would move existing unauthorized workers off the books to avoid detection.” Moreover, the evidence clearly shows that the mandatory use of E-Verify would negatively impact business owners and authorized workers alike, and could impose additional costs on workers and U.S. businesses. Nevertheless, the system has its merits when used as a compliance mechanism that works as a buffer to aid employers in verifying the legality of the paperwork offered by those seeking employment. It cannot, however, be utilized for something it is not meant for.

That is why- although it appeared to be an automated solution to our country’s illegal immigration problem- using E-Verify as the modus operandi to undercut the shortcomings of our national immigration policies is sure to be a recipe for disaster.